- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

RICHMOND — The Senate’s revised two-year transportation and budget plan is dead on arrival in the House of Delegates, House Speaker William J. Howell said yesterday.

Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican, said the bill is fatally flawed because the Senate on Wednesday used a stopgap House bill intended to fund state government only through June and stretched it to cover two years.

“The Senate amendments to the House bill are clearly out of order, not germane, and so that bill will go away under our rules,” Mr. Howell said.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill with a slightly revised transportation plan attached Wednesday, sending it to the House.

The vote came at the end of a confusing day of delays and miscalculations during which the Senate Finance Committee scaled back its $1 billion annual transportation package, only to have most of it reversed through floor amendments after senators of both parties revolted.

In the end, the only conspicuous change in the Senate plan was to replace a 5 percent gasoline tax with a 6 cents-per-gallon tax levied at the terminals. The intent is to force global oil corporations such as Shell Oil Co, and Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay the tax.

That leaves the House and Senate still at odds over a new transportation plan nearly three weeks after the Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned without a budget.

The stalemate, the third time in five years, forced lawmakers to return this week in special session to finish their business, but there is no solution in sight.

Neither chamber is scheduled to meet again until Monday, and then each is scheduled to be only a procedural formality involving a handful of legislators with no votes on bills.

Adversaries in the long-standing transportation dispute continued yesterday.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who has held dozens of town hall-style forums across the state, defended the Senate on a radio call-in show.

At least the Senate had remained in Richmond and continued to work toward a budget deal while the House sent its members home until further notice Monday, Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Howell, after presiding over a bare-bones House session that lasted only five minutes, said the Senate’s disjointed session showed that its leaders aren’t ready to negotiate.

“I think it’s pretty clear they’re not sure where they’re going. They’re grasping for ideas,” Mr. Howell said.

He also dismissed the Senate’s idea of taxing oil companies at their terminals as “demagoguery at the worst.”

“If they want to add a tax to gasoline, they ought to be bold enough to just say we’re going to add a tax to gasoline, not to say we’re going to tax the Saudis and they’ll eat it because they’re making such multibillion-dollar profits,” Mr. Howell said.

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